At the start of 2015, the Quartet leaders and 20 foreign ministers of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) gathered in Beijing for the inaugural ministerial meeting of the China-CELAC Forum. The meeting adopted three outcome documents, i.e. Beijing Declaration, China-Latin America and Caribbean Countries Cooperation Plan (2015-19) and Institutional Arrangements and Operating Rules of China-CELAC Forum. It also agreed on the objectives and measures for advancing cooperation in thirteen priority areas. This landmark event represents a solid first step in cooperation between China and Latin American and Caribbean states as a group and the latest foray of China’s major-power diplomacy.
Today, many in the world are impressed with Beijing’s diplomatic activism and the unique vision, style and spirit of China’s new leadership. Things can be traced to the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in late 2012, when China elected its new leaders. Since then, the central leadership headed by General Secretary Xi Jinping has studied China’s domestic and international interests, adapted to the changing situation and put forward new thinking concerning China’s diplomacy. Conscious of China’s growing responsibilities, Xi and his team have broken new ground in diplomatic practice and sought a new pathway to great-power status.
First, China has begun to champion a new type of international relations based on “win-win cooperation” while concurrently making efforts to expand common interests with other countries to build a community of shared outcome. Equipped with a capacity of development among the highest in the world, China is experimenting with something no major power has tried before: making win-win cooperation the basic tenet of international relations. This new approach still keeps with the trend of economic globalization and greater democracy in the international community. Under the new leadership, China has articulately practiced a more balanced approach to upholding principles and pursuing interests, where more stock is put in good faith, friendship, justice and moral strength.
Sure enough, Beijing’s emphasis on common interests and shared destiny is applauded by the world, including Latin American and Caribbean countries. President Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera of Costa Rica, who is the current chairman of CELAC, stated at the opening ceremony of the inaugural ministerial meeting that China’s outreach to his region is helping to shorten the geographical distance between the two sides and that China’s vision for a “Silk Road Economic Belt” and “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” is a boon to Latin American and Caribbean countries, as Beijing may be willing to consider funding the planned infrastructural projects linking countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Second, China’s embrace of a global network of partners finds expression in its all-inclusive diplomacy. China desires a global partnership based on equality. In Beijing’s view, countries – large and small, rich and poor – should respect each other’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity as well as development path and values. China desires a peaceful global partnership. There will be no hypothetical enemy or intended target. It will not be colored by military considerations. It should handle inter-state relations in a cooperative and positive-sum spirit, not the opposite. The global partnership should also go beyond differences in social system and ideology and highlight common interests and endeavors.
In this case, despite the fact that China and the 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries all belong to the developing world, their cooperation is hampered by significant differences in terms of national condition and strength as well as development and governance model. If they are to act concurrently, complex coordination is required – and even so, no one can guarantee a positive outcome. With this in mind, it is nothing short of amazing that from the adoption of a special statement in support of the establishment of China-CELAC Forum at the second CELAC summit in early 2014 to the convocation of the inaugural ministerial meeting in January 2015, it has taken the two sides only a couple of years to agree on not only a framework for collective cooperation, but also specific actions to link and augment their strengths. This is, in large part, thanks to the desire of Latin American and Caribbean countries to enhance their profile through unity and to China’s emphasis on progress, inclusion and pragmatism in its diplomatic activities.
Third, guided by the twin concepts of “inclusive growth” and “sustainable development,” China is spearheading a “new normal” of the global economy and providing more public goods to the world. It is honoring its commitment of “sincerity, concrete results, affinity and good faith” in relation to other developing countries, which are reaping real benefits from interacting with China.
The cooperation plan for 2015-2019 adopted by the China-CELAC ministerial meeting identified trade, investment and financial cooperation as the key engines driving their relations as well as six major areas of cooperation, namely energy, agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing, innovation and information technology. At the meeting, China promised to quicken the provision of a $20 billion USD infrastructural loan, $10 billion USD concessional loan and $50 million USD agricultural loan. In addition to economic cooperation, China also promised to do more to boost political and cultural ties. The numbers are enticing. In the next five years, China will offer 6,000 scholarships and 6,000 training opportunities to Latin American and Caribbean countries, invite 1,000 leaders of political parties to visit China, and implement a training program called “Bridge for the Future,” which is expected to link up 1,000 Chinese and Latin American young leaders.
Fourth, China is operationalizing its vision for relations with the United States characterized by “avoiding conflict and confrontation,” “mutual respect” and “win-win cooperation.” Beijing has made clear its readiness to work with Washington at the regional and global level and undertake international responsibilities befitting its national condition and strength. The idea is to combine each other’s strengths to provide more public goods to the world.
It is a safe bet that China’s cooperation with Latin America as a whole will drive regional integration and prosperity. Thus, it must not be viewed as a challenge to Washington, but as a positive contribution to peace and stability in the Americas. This may be why some foreign commentators have cautioned Washington against both seeing China’s outreach to Latin America as barging into its own backyard and taking significant action to counter the Chinese move.